Dan Tyminski is not one for comfort zones.
But even the 14-time Grammy winner needs the occasional push. A recent homecoming concert in Rutland, Vermont, was a reminder — and an unexpected one at that.
“We got so rained out, it literally just demolished the stage. We never got to play a note until 20 or 30 minutes after I was supposed to be finished,” he said. “God bless those people, the Grand Stand full of people stayed the whole time, and I ended up just going into the Grand Stand with an acoustic guitar and I just walked around and played to ’em right in their face because we had no PA system.”
He laughed, taking a break during the last of his three days off at home in Nashville, Tennessee, before hopping back on the tour bus with country star Brad Paisley.
“It was the weirdest show I’ve done in a very long time, where we actually left the stage and went up into the Grand Stand, and literally walked around and played for a while,” he continued. “I said, ‘Just so you folks know, I had intended to play much, much louder music than I’m about to play.’”
If all goes as planned, Tyminski will be on full blast when he headlines the Sag Harbor American Music Festival next month at the Old Whalers Church, where he will perform mostly off his newest album, “Southern Gothic” — a darker sound that revolves around electro-pop, but doesn’t stray far from his bluegrass roots.
“I’m so excited to be playing the music that I’m playing,” he said. “Looking back in my life, every time I stepped outside of the box, it’s been a rewarding experience in one way or another. So I thought, ‘I can’t imagine looking back in 10 years and thinking I didn’t take the chance.’”
As a boy, the self-taught musician gravitated toward the southern sounds of Tony Rice, Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas and J. D. Crowe — “I was banjo crazy,” he said — navigating the bluegrass festival circuit and always standing as close to the stage as he could get.
“The hardest thing for me was going back home and not having access to any instruction,” he said. “I had to go back and use my memory as best I could and try to remember what was being played, and find my own way to make those sounds.
“In the process, I really developed some horribly bad technique. How I chose to make those sounds, without anyone to show me firsthand, I developed a right hand that you really shouldn’t play banjo with,” he continued. “It works for me, but I don’t know anyone else on the planet who plays with the same right hand that I do. I had to make it up, and I made it up with the wrong fingers.”
Despite backward fingers, Tyminski moved to Virginia in 1988 for a four-year stint with the Lonesome River Band before joining Alison Krauss & Union Station, pitching in on a load of side projects along the way — even finding himself at an audition for the Coen Brothers’ film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” with the band.
“After we got to our audition, my manager said, ‘They still haven’t cast a voice for George Clooney. Is this something you would be interested in?’ I thought it was a joke,” Tyminski said. “I said, ‘Well sure, I’ll try anything.’ I never dreamed in a million years that I would ever be the guy that would get that. I swear to God, I was in the right place at the right time.”
Ten million records later — “That’s just not supposed to happen in bluegrass!” he said — Tyminski’s life and career continued to open up, though he initially dismissed a request to work on a song in a genre he didn’t know — EDM — with a DJ he’d never heard of.
So, he texted his daughter, and asked if she listened to Avicii.
“Uhhh, yes — Swedish DJ, he’s brilliant. Why?” she wrote back.
“When I said he wanted me to do a song on his album, she texted me back one word. She said, ‘Bullshit,’” Tyminski said. “I thought that was an odd response. I started to text back and the phone rang, and it was her. She’s like, ‘Dad, are you messing with me? You have no idea, he’s amazing,’ and went on and on and on. She literally said, ‘If you don’t do this song with him, I’m out.’ I don’t even know what that means. I don’t know if you can say that as a child to your parent.”
In 2013, “Hey Brother” would go on to reach #1 on charts in at least 18 countries. When his daughter’s friends sang the song back to him with admiration, he felt validated. When Avicii committed suicide this past year, he was devastated.
“I feel like the world lost a genius. It’s such a tragedy when a man at that age who has so much more …” he said, trailing off. “There’s no … I can’t begin to imagine what the world is missing out on, what he would have done with the rest of his career. I feel like it’s a tragedy that I don’t think people will fully understand. There was too much left in that young man.”
He paused. “I think that the Avicii experience gave me courage to step outside the box a little farther than I would have without it.”
The process of writing “Southern Gothic” was one of self-discovery, and a muscle he had never flexed. He has taken a fondness to it, he said, often waking up in the morning to jot down lyrics ever since the album dropped nearly a year ago — an album with a brand-new sound, and a darkness Tyminski never knew he had.
“It took a lot of thought and prayer before I could give the go-ahead on this one. When you do what I’ve done as long as I’ve done it, it’s hard to expect people to accept that type of change,” he said. “This is a major left turn from what I’ve done. It took a lot of thought and, ultimately, what influenced my decision more than anything else was that I feel like I am more connected to this body of work than maybe anything else I’ve ever done. My truth exists in every song.”
Tyminski encourages audiences to hear this music live — or any performer, for that matter — whether it’s in a grungy bar, a historic church or a formal theater, on a lawn or against a stage at a bluegrass festival, or even in the pouring rain inside a grand stand in Rutland, Vermont.
“Though I record for a living, I feel the importance of live music is still underrated. I think it touches your soul in a different way than recorded music does,” he said. “Whatever music you love, go listen to it being made live — and we’re gonna play some live music in Sag Harbor. Man, we’re excited!”
The eighth annual Sag Harbor American Music Festival will kick off with a concert celebration of Sly and the Family Stone on Thursday, September 27, at 8 p.m. at Bay Street Theater, located at 1 Bay Street in Sag Harbor. Tickets are $30.
Dan Tyminski will headline on Friday, September 28, at 8 p.m. at the Old Whalers Church, located at 44 Union Street in Sag Harbor. Tickets are $30.
Full days of free music will be held on Saturday, September 29, from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday, September 30, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at various locations around the village. For more information, visit sagharbormusic.org.